Okanagan Indian Band calls for action, not words

With court hearing to stop sale of CN corridor coming in late May, OKIB says CN corridor through its land is its top priority

The Chief and Council of the Okanagan Indian Band are welcoming support from the Mayor of Lake Country when it comes to their long-standing claim to the Commonage lands around Kalamalka Lake, including the old CN Rail corridor.

OKIB chief Byron Louis is now calling on mayor Baker to act on his words.

“We welcome the support of any right-minded individuals who have taken the time to learn about our claim,” said Louis.

Chief Louis was responding to recent remarks made by Baker in the Vernon Morning Star.

“I’d like to see us support it [the] (claim),” said Baker. “The courts have said that Aboriginal title underlines all of B.C.”

The OKIB claims Baker’s comments are the opposite of other proponents of the rail trail including the City of Kelowna, saying the only thing they have heard from the inter-jurisdictional team is that there is no legal obligation to the Commonage claim.

The OKIB has filed a civil suit in B.C. Supreme Court attempting to stop the sale of the corridor, a $22 million deal between CN and Kelowna, with Lake Country and the North Okanagan Regional District as partners.

It’s expected to be heard in late May,

So far only the municipalities and CNR have responded to the OKIB Statement of Claim filed on March 24 while responses from the Crown are expected in early May, according to Louis.

“The responses so far have essentially denied that the Commonage reserve existed,” said Louis, “They also accuse the OKIB of ‘abuse of process,’”

Louis added that any guilt relating to abuse of process lies at the feet of the Crown and others who choose to ignore history.

“When it comes to dealing with First Nations and unsettled land disputes in British Columbia, the Federal government is the champion of abusing process,” said Louis. “Where else in the world can a governmental body determine which claims against themselves are legitimate, and which claims are not? In acting as judge, jury and executioner regarding First Nations land claims, the Federal government is in conflict. Therefore, we rely on our courts to dispense justice, and recent rulings favouring First Nations are confirming what we’ve known for over a century, we’ve not had a lot of justice…until now.”

Louis said all of the parties involved in the potential sale of the CN Rail corridor share the responsibility of the band having to take court action on the issue. He said the municipalities keep saying they have invited OKIB to be a part of the process but at the same time all parties deny any responsibility when it comes to the band’s claims.

Louis added that he expects a strong OKIB turnout for the injunction hearing, which will take place in Vancouver.

“We have heard what our membership has to say,” he said. “The rail action is our current priority.”

When asked about the successful yes vote in the District of Lake Country’s referendum of April 25, Louis responded, “Our decision making process is not determined by municipal referendums.”

Louis called on Kelowna mayor Colin Basran to support their claim. Basran is currently out of the country and unavailable for comment.